RCEP Ministers’ statement: no detail and differing views about likely deal by year’s end

September 4, 2018:  The public statement of RCEP Ministers from 16 countries following their meeting last week welcomed plans to achieve a package of certain targets in the negotiations by the end of 2018, but gave no details about what those targets were.

This is consistent with the secrecy and lack of accountability of these negotiations. The only hints of the issues were in media reports.

The Japanese daily Mainichi said that the package included four elements: market for goods, services, investment and intellectual property rights. It quoted anonymous officials from RCEP countries, who appeared to have different views of the package. An official from an ASEAN country was quoted as saying, "We concluded a package that will be used by the negotiators to try and find a substantial conclusion by year-end, so that the leaders can announce something."

Asked about the difficulties between China and India - said to be the main stumbling block for the negotiations to be concluded over the last several years - the official said there is a need for some kind of a middle path for them to have a mutually beneficial agreement.

Another official from an ASEAN country was quoted as saying that that while all 16 countries agreed on the targets in this package, they have not yet achieved the targets because there are sensitive political issues regarding which some governments need to consult. He said that the negotiating countries "need to be flexible, to accommodate the differing levels of development of certain countries."

The Mainichi also quoted Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry, Suresh Prabhu, as saying that he had concerns during the meeting about some elements of the proposed agreement. He said India continues to face some social challenges in terms of poverty as well as having a large population based on agriculture. "All those concerns have been expressed and I am sure they'll be addressed by negotiations which we will continue in 2019," he said.

Chief negotiators from RCEP countries are due to meet in Auckland around October 20.